There are no “bad” workouts. Let me explain. Some workouts just feel like they went wrong, but we often are still benefiting from the effort in terms of training progression and adaptation. But the truth is it happens to all of us from time to time. Our training is on track, and we are being super consistent.
Then we have that workout that just doesn’t come together. We don’t feel the energy, and we can’t hit the watts on the bike or pacing for our track session. When that happens, doubt creeps in, and we begin to worry that we just aren’t fit enough, you’re doing something wrong, or the training isn’t working.
Keep in mind that there are many reasons that a workout doesn’t come together as planned, and for the consistent athlete, it’s seldom a general lack of fitness or a programming issue.
1. Lack of Sleep or Disrupted Sleep
This is a big one. Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep can negatively impact a workout. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies can’t recover properly, and we’re more likely to feel fatigued during our workouts.
This can lead to poorer performance and an increased risk of injury. If you’re not getting enough sleep, adjust your expectations in training accordingly and give yourself some extra time to rest and recover.
2. Lack of Hydration
As endurance athletes, we must pay special attention to our hydration. Even when we are slightly dehydrated, it can impact our day. And a lack of hydration can have a significant impact on our training.
Dehydration can lead to fatigue, elevated heart rate, and even cramping. It’s essential to drink plenty of fluids in the days leading up to, during, and after a workout to stay properly hydrated. And if it’s a hot day or you’re sweating a lot, be sure to up your fluid intake even more. Drink small amounts often during each day, rather than large amounts all at once.
3. Work and Family Stress
I have had this discussion with many athletes over the years. For the endurance athlete, managing stress matters. Often our bodies have a hard time differentiating work or family stress from physical stress. To the body, stress is stress. We all have stress in our lives from work and family, and sometimes it can be hard to shake it off. This stress can definitely carry over into our workouts, making them that much more difficult.
4. Onset of Illness
There are times when our bodies are fighting off some sort of illness, and we might not even be aware that it’s happening. But we feel a little off during a workout, and we aren’t sure why. We might not have the energy we usually do or just feel a little tired. Fighting an illness takes a lot of energy and resources, so giving our bodies the time and space to do that is important.
5. Negative Mindset
As the saying goes, “how we see hard, is how we experience hard.” Negative thinking can often lead to negative outcomes – period. This is certainly true when it comes to hard endurance workouts. Going into a workout with negative thoughts can cloud our judgment and objectivity.
If you are worried about how hard the ride or run will be or that you won’t be able to execute the activity as planned, you’re likely to have a less enjoyable experience. This kind of thinking almost always impacts performance.
6. Improper Fueling Before and During the Workout
I had a coach once tell me, “Sometimes the difference between a good and bad workout is a burrito and a couple of extra hours.” The point being, fueling leading up to a challenging workout can have just as much impact as fueling during the workout.
If we go into a workout under-fueled, we are asking for trouble – especially for longer sessions. The same is true for those of us who work out in the early morning. Though this is individual to the athlete, we must start the day with a pre-workout breakfast 60-120 minutes before our swim, bike, or run session.
Although a crappy workout can be discouraging, it’s important to remember that there are many reasons why it could happen. Maybe you’re tired from a previous tough workout or dealing with stress from work or personal life.
It’s also possible that you just didn’t have enough energy for that particular workout on the day. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your training isn’t working or that you’ve lost fitness. You’re more likely to see results if you stay consistent even when you don’t feel your best. So don’t let a bad workout get you down – just learn from it and move on!
Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.